UK diabetes research featured in group’s annual research report

By Hilary Smith
University of Kentucky

One of the cover stories in the annual research report from the American Diabetes Association is about a University of Kentucky researcher devoted to helping rural Kentuckians — specifically in Appalachia — better manage their diabetes.

Highlighting investments in advancing diabetes research and clinical practice. ADA research grants focus on innovative projects with high impact and help researchers establish collaborative networks to move their innovations into the hands of people living with diabetes.

Brittany Smalls an associate professor and the Dr. Claire Louise Caudill Professor in Family Medicine in the UK’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. Her future work in Appalachia will look at inter-generational households, where large extended families often live together in the same home or throughout shared pieces of land. These families share everything from living spaces, meals, household chores, caregiving and more.

Such households are common in Appalachia, and so is a disproportionately high risk for Type 2 diabetes. The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes reaches 23% in Kentucky’s most rural counties, more than twice the state average.

Throughout her career of helping older adults with type 2 diabetes, Smalls quickly noticed that the adult children and grandchildren of those she worked with could also benefit from her research.

Thanks to an award from the ADA, Smalls will expand her focus from older adults with type 2 diabetes to entire families living with or who are at risk for the disease.

“By tapping into tight-knit family units, we can start to shift how people think about their health and how they think about each other,” Smalls said.

The cover story from the ADA’s report details Smalls’ work resulting from the award:

“She is piloting a health intervention that leverages social support within family units to promote nutrition and physical activity, which are key to mitigating obesity and type 2 diabetes. Each participating family will receive a tailored six-month lifestyle plan.

“Only one adult needs a type 2 diabetes diagnosis for a household to be eligible, and a dietitian will engage them in medical nutrition therapy based on available foods. Participating families will receive ADA-backed recommendations for physical activity based on family members’ physical ability.”

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